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A Q&A with Jessica Gray, Assistant Athletics Director at Texas Tech University

What are your responsibilities in the role of Assistant Athletics Director for the J.T. and Margaret Talkington Leadership Academy at Texas Tech? 

I am responsible for the oversight of daily operations, programming, special events and budget for our leadership academy across the pillars of career, character, leadership and wellness. In this role, I also serve as the primary instructor for our High Impact Leadership course that is a 3.0 academic course for sophomore student-athletes and up and have served as the chair of the athletic department Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

Jessica GrayJessica Gray

What is the most challenging obstacle you feel student athletes will face when their playing days are over?

Adjustment and acclimatization to life post college athletics once they are no longer engulfed in their identity as a student-athlete. Our charge at the Leadership Academy is to make that transition as seamless as possible as we focus on their identity, career interests and holistic development from their arrival on campus as a first time freshman or transfer.

What is the most satisfying thing about your work with student athletes?

 Being able to help them develop holistically and apply the life skills and abilities they utilize daily as a student-athlete in other aspects of their lives. I was fortunate to have a lot of professionals during my college experience that served as mentors and advisors to me so being able to pay it forward and do that for our student-athletes is what is most gratifying about the work I do.

 How does diversity come into play in your role?

 Diversity is always at the forefront of my role because it is multifaceted and ranges from diversity of thought, experience, ethnicity etc. and when developing programming, curriculum and planning events, we need to be considerate and committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Being a first-generation Jamaican-American, I am always mindful of how I show up in spaces and that representation matters so I am an advocate of bringing my whole self into the spaces I occupy and the work that I do. Additionally, as a leadership academy, we serve a diverse athletics department comprised of student-athletes, coaches and staff from many different walks of life. We strive to make not only our leadership academy programming and physical office space a space that all feel and are welcomed but our athletic department [as well].

 What’s your favorite dish to bring to family dinner or a potluck?

 I love making jerk chicken — the spicier the better. If I’m not in the mood to cook, I use my bartending skills! 

Did you play sports in high school, college or professionally?

I played sports year round from childhood to high school beginning with tennis. In high school I focused on field hockey and track and field as a short distance sprinter and thrower. I retired from playing basketball after 8th grade and spent the basketball seasons in high school as a girl’s basketball manager which I continued to do as a men’s basketball undergraduate and graduate assistant manager at Temple University.

Everybody has been watching more Netflix and other streaming services during the pandemic.  What show(s) have you binge-watched and what did you think about them?

My watch list is never-ending at this point but I’m an avid supporter of all things Shonda Rhimes and have been watching Greys Anatomy since it first aired, so naturally I binge watched Bridgerton in all of two days. My interests range and I got into The Chi and Snowfall during the stay-at-home order and continue to love A Million Little Things and This is Us.

What do you think the biggest challenge has been in your role during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I was promoted into my current role in January 2020 so pre-COVID, just adjusting to a new leadership role while having to replace myself on my staff was a challenge. During COVID, navigating all of the changes to what was our normal and getting used to working from home and being 100% virtual was interesting. I never imagined working from home as a college athletics administrator but the sudden change challenged us to be better, more creative and adapt in ways that have only expanded our programming and opportunities to meet our student-athletes where they are.

What would you recommend to a student athlete who wants to use their platform to get more involved with mainstream campus activities and/or social activism?

Utilize the network of professionals within the athletic department who are employed and here to serve them. It isn’t bothersome or annoying — utilize your resources and make us work for you! Also, getting involved within the athletic department will be a springboard to casting a wider and larger net of involvement within the local, university and even conference community. We can’t put you in spaces and advocate for you if we don’t know you or your interests. 

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

My favorite pleasure is travel and COVID impacted that a great deal so I have been relying on one of my favorite forms of self-care, which is doing absolutely nothing and watching mindless TV or listening to music.

This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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